Note: This is the second of a series on Epilepsy Awareness–an effort to help the Philippine League Against Epilepsy
Here are some fallacies about Epilepsy and the facts about them. Source: PLAE Primer
Myth 1: Epilepsy is a mental condition and leads to insanity.
Fact: Epilepsy is a brain condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are sudden, brief abnormalities of behavior, thought, movement, or sensation generally lasting for a few minutes. Seizures are caused by a hyperactive, disorganized electrical activity from the brain.
Although psychosis may be found in about 2-7% of persons with epilepsy, these are merely exceptions and therefore should not be generalized.
Myth 2: It is caused by spirit or demon possession or “pagsasapi”.
Fact: Movies, literature, and folklore have associated seizures to a demonic possession because of some similarities in their manifestations. But seizures can be documented scientifically as abnormal brain activity on EEG, unlike demon possession. Seizures are not dealt with by exorcism or prayer–only by medications and in other cases, brain surgery and a special diet (ketogenic diet, doctor prescribed).
Myth 3: It is contagious or can be inherited. (This fallacy has caused many patients with epilepsy to be shunned from society and from pursuing marriage and having a family.)
Fact: Many conditions can cause epilepsy. In a small number of patients (10-15%), the susceptibility or predisposition to develop seizures may be inherited. However, for the most number of patients, it can be due to other brain insults. It may happen in those with a history of head injury. It may also happen to those with hypoxic brain injury sustained from a birth complication ( lack of brain oxygen in the baby during child birth – ex. due to coiled cord around neck of baby, difficult labor, maternal complications leading to fetal distress). It may also result from an infection of the brain (meningitis, encephalitis), brain tumors, strokes, prolonged convulsions in childhood. The cause may be unknown in around 40% of cases.
Myth 4: Epilepsy patients are retarded.
Fact: This is a bad misconception because epilepsy is highly prevalent among other disability groups such as autism (25.5%), cerebral palsy (13%), Down syndrome (13.6%) and mental retardation (25.5%). However, if one looks at the entire population of people suffering from epilepsy, majority of them have normal IQs, are able to go to school, and are able to sustain gainful employment.
Myth 5: Patients with epilepsy shouldn’t get stressed so they should not study or work or indulge in sports and leisure activity.
Fact: The relationship between the occurrence of psycho-mental stress and seizures is at present unstudied. Patients associate stressful periods with an increase in seizures. Many experts believe it is the effects of stress such as disturbed sleep and missing meals and medications that bring about an increase in seizures rather than the psychological or mental preoccupation itself.
The fact that there are philosophers, world leaders, artists, writers, politicians and athletes who have epilepsy prove that epilepsy should not pose a limitation to mental and physical activities.
Myth 6: Patients with epilepsy shouldn’t get married because they might pass on their epilepsy to their children.
This is not true.
Myth 7: When a patient starts to have a seizure, the best first aid is to stick a spoon inside his mouth.
Fact: When a person goes into a seizure, there are very powerful muscle contractions that suddenly cause him to fall, stop breathing, bite his tongue, or clamp his jaw. Inserting an object into his mouth has been found to be more detrimental to the patient and has caused dental fractures, mouth lacerations, even suffocation so therefore, iIt is not encouraged.
What to do during an epileptic seizure
1) Cushion the patient’s head with a soft pillow.
2) Loosen the clothing around the neck.
3) Remove harmful objects around him that can hurt or injure him.
4) Turn him to his side to prevent suffocation and allow drainage of saliva.
5) Time the seizures. If seizures last five minutes or more or the patient has been injured, the patient should be brought immediately to the emergency room.
Myth 8: Anti-epileptic medications are toxic (“ naluluto ang utak”) and should not be taken for a long time.
Fact: Epilepsy is a chronic condition that needs long term intake of antiepileptic drug, the minimum of which is two to five years, depending on its cause. Patients are always advised to take their medications daily to prevent seizures from recurring each day. There are minor side effects with long term intake, especially on the bone, cognition, blood elements, or liver but these conditions can be monitored by the doctor on regular follow-up.
CAN EPILEPSY BE PREVENTED?
The good news is, many cases of epilepsy can be prevented by protecting the head, such as the wearing of seat belts and bicycle helmets, putting children in car seats, and other measures that may prevent head injury and other trauma.
Prescribing medication after the first or second seizures or febrile seizures also may help prevent epilepsy in some cases. Good prenatal care, including treatment of high blood pressure and infections during pregnancy, can prevent brain damage in the developing baby that may lead to epilepsy and other neurological problems later. Treating cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, infections, and other disorders that can affect the brain during adulthood and aging also may prevent many cases of epilepsy.
Finally, identifying the genes for many neurological disorders can provide opportunities for genetic screening and prenatal diagnosis that may ultimately prevent many cases of epilepsy.